Allowing Grief

Anne Mason and Thea Mason

To support one who is grieving, simply allow them to be––to be a mess, to be demolished, to be in grief. And to not be the same person you knew them to be before the grief. Because they are not––and they never will be again. And if you are the one grieving, honor yourself and your loss by allowing that in yourself.

Grief “veterans” sisters Anne Mason and Thea Mason discuss.

Anne’s article describing her personal experience with loss and grief was written and published a few years after the death of their parents in 2002, 11 days apart. It was recently republished again this year in Grief Digest Magazine, entitled Responding to Life.

VIDEO TRANSCRIPT BELOW:

Anne:                           00:01                Okay. So Thea and I are going to talk a little bit more about grief. We feel we’re still, we’re feeling that thread still of grief and we were just reflecting in a conversation we were just having on the fact that it’s probably partly the season. Our father had passed at the end of October and then our mother, 11––I never remember 11, 13 days later, whatever it was in the early November…

Thea:                            00:32                Eleven.

Anne:                           00:32                Eleven days. And one thing I wanted to qualify is that the reason that I think we’re talking about this as if we have a great deal of experience with kind of intense grief is that part of it was the experience of caretaking our parents from brain illness and injury over the course of some years. So it was very, very intense, you know, when people lose the brains, basically, that’s an intense process of caretaking. And then it happening when we were a lot younger.

Thea:                            01:20                It’s almost at 20 years, I mean we’re going toward 20 years now.

Anne:                           01:27                And then, and then happening within the space of two weeks. So that was just all intense, very intense and very magnified. So that’s partly why we are wanting to convey what helped. We were just reflecting on the fact that if it happened now, of course it would still be intense, but not as intense. So, we want to talk a little bit about what helped us during that time practically. And I was reflecting with Thea on the fact that one of the things I did during that, especially that first year after it all happened and I was going through the motions of life and work and dealing with the estate and all of these things, I started drinking cream in my coffee where I had drunk black coffee before that. But just to, to get out of bed and go to work, which was like, felt like it required sometimes superhuman capacity. I started drinking cream in my coffee. I started taking baths again. And I had lived in London, years before where everybody takes baths and I had gone back to taking showers here in the States. But I started taking baths, because it felt more nurturing. It was softer. It was gentler. I started doing yoga a little bit, and as Thea can vouch for, I’m not a yoga person, but I started doing yoga in the mornings. I had this funky VHS tape that I had inherited from Thea or something, and I would do this 20 minute yoga thing in the morning and it nurtured me. It helped me. I also look back on that time and realize, you know, I cocooned a lot and it’s kind of against my nature, to be so insular, you know, I’m pretty out there, but I was alone a lot. I wanted to be alone a lot. And I drank a lot. I wept a lot. I cried a lot. And, and I remember at the time, friends, people close to me, kind of trying to encourage me to get out of that, “Come on, you know, this isn’t you!” and being kind of at odds with that, like, “Oh, this is not me. What, what’s going on? What am I doing here? What am I doing?” And I wish I had had the sense that I knew best and the sense to just allow that process to happen without trying to force anything.

Thea:                            04:34                Well if I can chime in to that. This reminds me of the thought I had had when we were chatting a little bit ago was that it wasn’t you. And like we touched on last time, that there is that darkened space that we go into and we do–– allowing, allowing for that darkened space and time to occur like a cocoon. We do come out something else. We become something else. We develop, we grow, we change. But I just wanted to remark, because I don’t think I’ve thought of it this way before, was that when someone that we love and make connections with in this life leaves this world, the world is altered and therefore those that are closely tied to that person do truly change because they fill the space differently to be able to continue. And you know, when it is a connection that is like one of those of loved people in our lives, it does alter us and we do become something not ourselves while we’re in transformation. And I think even just stating that if that, if that knowledge was more apparent for those people who are supporting the grieving people that they will be different, and it’s not really a helpful thing to convey.

Thea:                            06:04                You’re not yourself. No shit, you know? You won’t be, you know, I will be picking up different threads of myself, but I’m weaving a new fabric. While I’m in this cocoon. You know, we are changing. So if there’s a little more intelligence about that process for people who are going through grief maybe or those that are going through it, our own knowledge that we’re going to be different and allowing for that without the guilt game of I’m not being myself for these people in my life. I don’t know if I’ve gone too far astray, but I think that’s what you’re speaking to. Wishing you had known that, you know best like listening to that inner voice again that is asking you to do something different, you know, is, is really valuable.

Anne:                           06:55                Yes, it’s definitely valuable. And it’s, and it’s good to talk to other people who have been through it as we did, you know, over time. I also went to a grief counselor. First time I had really done any therapy or any kind of thing like that, and it was helpful for sure, to have that validated. I think that’s an important thing to point out to others too though, who are there to try to, or those were trying to hold it for someone else. Trying to support someone who’s going through the grieving process. W.

Thea:                            07:33                Which is really a hard position.

Anne:                           07:36                It is. And I’ve read about this recently too, where people don’t know what to say. They don’t know what to do. People who have not been there really don’t know. And I think it’s important to just let those folks know that I think that all anyone is…You know, when you’re grieving that deeply. And one other thing I wanted to point out is like, you know, a friend had communicated recently about it, who had lost her son recently and that, as I said to her, I can’t even touch that, right? That’s, that’s many layers beyond. But what I can say is I, I just, you know, I just send you my love, you know, I give you my love and, and I grieve for you and with you, right? You know, you can say, I’m sorry for your loss or whatever, but you know, I always, I found all that platitudinal stuff kind of like, just, just be real. And just to know that that person, honor that person by allowing them to just be going through that phase that you’re describing, their transformation. They are not going to be what you know, they’re not going to be what you are used to, and they’re probably never going to be that again.

Thea:                            09:18                That’s huge.

Anne:                           09:20                So to, to accept that and encourage them in that rather than make them feel as if they’re doing something wrong. Right?

Thea:                            09:30                Right. Yeah. I think what you’re speaking to also, and I, you know, when I look back at people in my life when they’ve been going through their own grief and it’s like, you know, we don’t want to say “I’m sorry for your loss” while you are, is, depending on the nature of your relationship is a little bit like “I’m here and I can relate and I’m here.” But we can’t, there’s not much else. There’s not much else we can really offer.

Anne:                           10:02                Yeah, we can’t. That’s the thing. We can’t fix it. We can’t give them anything. We can just hold that space for them to just be and to be demolished too. We can hold the space for them to be demolished. To be all over the floor. To be a mess. Let them be a mess. You know? And that’s what you and I spoke about a little bit too. It’s like, you had used the word, I don’t think you said this in the video, but you said, there was a part of you that, because the fabric of reality had torn open…

Thea:                            10:42                Or altered.

Anne:                           10:42                Altered. There was a tear in it. (You Said), “It didn’t fit, it no longer fit. Your life didn’t quite fit anymore.” So that’s something that we become aware of more in any heightened state, I think.

Thea:                            11:03                Right. That you’re actually growing into a new way of being. When there has been an alteration to the reality you’ve been engaging with. So allowing for that growth and that shift and that discomfort. Kind of like if you have a new pair of shoes, they take a bit to wear into the shape of your foot, right? Or your, when you get used to a good pair of jeans. At first they didn’t feel so good, but that takes a little bit of time and then you fit them right and they, you fit them and they fit you. But it all takes a little discomfort for awhile.

Anne:                           11:43                Or more than that though I would say. I mean, I like your, your clothing analogy––as anyone knows, Thea’s style and her clothes and her relationship to clothes, it’s appropriate. For me on the other hand, like when we were talking about the mess and, and being demolished on the floor––I think also give yourself a break. And give anyone who’s going through this a break to, to really screw up too in a way. Like make some, make some big mistakes.

Thea:                            12:22                Which I think we all, we all did.

Anne:                           12:25                We all did, you know, and it was challenging and hard. But also it’s like we had to break some things. In order to then allow that new thing to form. We had to break it down. Say that again.

Thea:                            12:47                A new emergence, like of oneself. Out of it. To break down ideas that we had about ourselves that were held, I mean, in our situation, it being our parents, that’s a different dynamic than a friend or a lover or a child. So different things we had to break down to free ourselves even.

Anne:                           13:10                Yeah. I put it as, you know, we went a little crazy and that was okay. Because we only went so crazy. We kept things going, but we went a little crazy. And then we came back from the crazy.

Thea:                            13:32                The edges, I call it the edges. A little bit. Because we weren’t out of our heads, I mean, we weren’t disconnected with what we were doing. We were really pretty aware of the choices we were making in most of those moments. They were big but we, we pushed past our edges maybe that we had kept ourselves in before. And I, you know, I think what you said just about that, that initial time of intense grief, it’s like finding whatever it is that is some sort of ritual for you––cream in your coffee, baths, walks, talks, whatever––those little things that can hold so much power. Lighting a candle, you know, I mean, I’m just giving little things, making your, you know, whatever. I’m like thinking like my shoe rack, little things that I could make really neat and orderly that brought me joy because everything felt…

Anne:                           14:32                And tethering, right? It was a tethering, so whatever, you know, finding your little rituals of tethering. To tether you while you also are flailing at the same time through that.

Thea:                            14:48                And one more thing. I don’t know if this ties anything in, but I think there’s those, those pictures that when you’re sharing of your sort of cocooning, and I was saying a little bit of that spiraling inward because you tend to be more outward and I, I don’t think I’ve put this together quite yet until now. I tend to be a little more inward in many ways and I think in that period I was so busy teaching and practicing, I kind of did the opposite.

Anne:                           15:19                And parenting. Yeah, you did.

Thea:                            15:19                I went out a little bit more than I normally would be. So that’s curious. I don’t think I’d seen that until now.

Anne:                           15:30                Yeah, which pushed this other side of you like this, this other side of me. And brought us to the wholeness that we are now! I joke!

Thea:                            15:41                As we go through new challenges and edge pushing. My God.

Anne:                           15:49                Absolutely. Absolutely. As we’re, yeah. As we are both going through other changes, and we’ve also just reflected on the fact that having gone through that intensity in our earlier years and, and then becoming accustomed to cycles and cycles of grief does inform you to become accustomed to all cycles and that they do move and they’re waves, and it moves in and out. And if you just kind of tether yourself while you get through that, there is light at the end of the tunnel.

Thea:                            16:23                Yeah. Thanks.

Anne:                           16:25                There we go. As nonlinear is all that was. Hopefully that’s, that’s something and something. And Happy holidays to all the grieving people out there, because I know this brings it up as it does the winter and all of that. Right? So, all right.

Thea:                            16:46                Absolutely. Take care.

Anne:                           16:47                You too. All right. Bye.

Thea:                            16:50                Bye.

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Coping with Grief and Loss

Anne Mason and Thea Mason

Grief can seem indescribably unbearable. But it gets easier, we promise. And it can transform and give birth to something positive––and widen, deepen and enrich our capacity and wisdom as we move through life.

Sisters Anne Mason and Thea Mason speak from experience.

Anne’s article describing her personal experience with loss and grief was written and published a few years after the death of their parents in 2002, 11 days apart. It was recently republished again this year in Grief Digest Magazine, entitled Responding to Life.

VIDEO TRANSCRIPT BELOW:

Anne:                           00:00                Okay, we’re recording. Okay. So we’re going to talk about grief today. And to inform anyone listening. Thea and I both, and our sisters, lost both of our parents at the end of 2002 after they both suffered pretty horrific, devastating brain injuries and illnesses. Our mother from brain cancer at the young age of 52, and our father from a brain injury following other health problems at the age of 62. So that was pretty intense as anyone can imagine. Tt was not just the loss, but also the years leading to the loss and how excruciating that was to witness.

Thea:                            01:07                And the 11 days apart, you know, and the, the compact “pow” of the loss.

Anne:                           01:10                Yeah. It was. And, you know, I was Mom’s primary caretaker. She was not remarried. Thea, she already had a family. So she also had a young child and she was flying back, taking care of things as well. Then my dad’s secondary caretaker. So it was just, it was so intense, right? As anyone who’s gone through loss understands. And so we’ve been talking about this and I’ll post a link to the article too that by chance I discovered––there was an article I had written really not long after they died, but then I kind of held onto it and submitted it for publication a few years later. So it was published about a decade ago and it was just recently republished this year. So the first thing I think we would like to talk about is to acknowledge for anyone who is suffering and in grief grieving, going through the grieving process, that we get it so much and that it is an experience that one cannot really convey or describe really, unless you’ve stepped through that door. And we’re aware of the fact that the world does not see or acknowledge what you are going through as you are walking through your day to day life, trying to just cope with an unbearable, indescribable pain. You know, I mean, it makes me want to cry when I’m––I don’t know why I’m in touch with it recently. And that is the weird thing about grief, it is always there, but it gets much more manageable and it transforms and there’s a beauty. There is as much beauty to the pain as there is the pain, I think over time, you know? And so yeah, you know, a couple of friends of mine have just suffered very close losses. So that’s been a topic we were just talking about.

Anne:                           03:44                Ricky Gervais’ After Life––it’s a new Netflix series and it’s remarkable. It’s extraordinary. His comprehension, his understanding of grief and his ability to portray it. It’s very good. I highly recommend it. So, I think what we want to talk about a little bit right now is, and let’s look at our time. As we had been talking about even in last week’s conversation, which we entitled Responding to Change and many other of our conversations have been kind of in keeping with this theme of our responses to what life presents, right, and how impactful it is. How our response to what comes obviously significantly influences our life’s experience. And others’, you know, in this case with grief, others’ response to what we are going through is also impactful. And that article I wrote about touched on how the lack of our society’s observance of grief, of what people are going through. There is as I had written in the article, there’s a short period of time where your loss is formally acknowledged, but maybe it’s our busy world, our busy society, our busy everyday hectic pace. I’m not sure what it is. I also think there’s something unhealthy in the way we cope. I think there is some times a sense of putting on a face. I think there’s a sense of kind of faking it––that we, that we should, you know, just appear as if things are okay.

Thea:                            06:10                If it doesn’t interrupt your thought too much, I think there’s something that I’m seeing when we’re articulating it is––your article says so eloquently really how you’re given this space and time, brief period of time where it’s acknowledged and then it kind of just slips away, but you’re still holding it. And that’s really the time where the burden gets heavier. And because the shock, depending on what grief stages or how it comes to someone, you know, ours was, I can speak from that experience. That was, it was just so intense. And, and because it was so intense for us, I felt like, you know, everything was blown apart, all of our reality in a certain way. So, so taking us to our knees that the only thing that could come through was grace. Like it carried us through the horrificness of it in a way. And then after the shocking part sort of starts to wear off, that’s when the new stages of that grief start to come in, in a more thunderous way in a sense. And what I’m seeing in this though is like, different cultures have different observances. You know, maybe you wear black for a year or whatever it is because it really does take that length of time. And our culture–we don’t do that so much in any real way.

Thea:                            07:48                But what I’m seeing is that we have the observance for this short period, and then you have the funeral or the celebration of life or whatever it is, but it’s like boom, boom, boom. And it’s like the meaning again is getting lost and it’s the image rather than the essence. Even the advice that you’re given through grief counselors to not make any big changes, which you speak to really well in the article, but it’s again, it’s like it gets lost. The words, the meaning, the intent, the impulse that’s sound gets distorted. And then it’s like you’re standing in nothingness.

Anne:                           08:31                It’s, you know I remember how I worded it and I don’t want to repeat exactly how I worded it, but basically it’s cautioning us, right? To not be reactive. To not be reactionary, maybe is a better way of putting it. But in so doing, it’s kind of throwing the baby out with the bath water. So yes, we should not, it’s helpful in life to not react impulsively without thought, without care. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t respond. Right? And that we shouldn’t act upon the process that we’re going through that we shouldn’t act upon some of the instincts or the awarenesses or changes that it’s bringing up in us. Right? So that’s one thing I think that it goes hand in hand with the way the culture observes our loss as well. It’s true that we have to get on with it. Right? And, you know, I remember in the midst of it, and I have since kind of lamented how challenging it is with a death. So the person who’s been caretaking experiencing incredible loss after they’re already exhausted from the caretaking, and then they’ve got to do all this other stuff after the death, all the legal stuff, all of the you know, the estate situation.

Thea:                            10:21                The business part.

Anne:                           10:26                The business of it. But, there is also something necessary in that because it keeps you moving, you know, and there is a tethering there, as unpleasant as it is, so that you don’t kind of go off the deep end. Not to say that one doesn’t at times go off the deep end. And I would say I, you know, those first couple of years were almost debilitating. Right? I mean, it was just, you know, I drank a lot, you know, and I sheltered myself a lot. I did go through the motions and I did what I absolutely had to do. But other than that, you know, it was, it was rough as you know.

Thea:                            11:16                And I know that too. You know, I think so much of the way grief comes to us or what we’re given through it–– knowing that I had a child to take care of, it minimized the spaces I could even go into. So they kind of came in a softer current over years because I had a living proof purpose that I had to keep going for. Right? And that changes things.

Anne:                           11:46                Yeah. Totally. You couldn’t, you couldn’t fall down. Right? And so that also means that probably it may have lingered longer. Your process may have just been elongated you know, but who’s to say? Right? Cause it’s still, I mean, there are still times, once in a great while, I will like, I’ll weep. Right?

Thea:                            12:11                I know. Yeah.

Anne:                           12:11                But also you know, on the flip side, for anyone going through it, God, I mean, as devastating and difficult as it’s been, I’m grateful to them for the gift that they gave us in that. I would not be who I am. I would not be the mother I am. I would not be…There’s so much that it deepened in our experience, right, to have gone through that. So there’s some good stuff that comes from it, you know, with all of life’s, you know I mean it’s cliche again, but the deeper the suffering, the deeper the experience, the deeper the wisdom I think.

Thea:                            13:13                Right. And that goes, we spoke just for a moment beforehand is like, yeah, as, we love more, as we grieve more and feel the depths and breadths, and all the angles and spaces of feeling––I mean these are the things that make us really human. It allows, I mean, I feel for myself, it’s allowed me to become a bigger person, more able to meet more people where they are. The more experiences I have, the wisdom, right? The more that there is a reflection within me to another, the more we share, the more we connect, the more we serve our purpose being here on Earth.

Anne:                           14:00                Oh gosh. And it reminds me of a comment a friend made on my Facebook page when I had just posted that this article got republished. And she had lost her mom. And she said, you know, it makes one aware, it’s a reminder that we don’t ever know what anyone else is going through as they’re walking through. Right? And so when you’ve gone through this yourself, it brings an awareness to you always that there are many layers there in everyone. It brings a compassion to I think one’s interactions with everyone and any one, because you start to reveal or you start to realize that so much more may be happening, has happened. You have not walked in their shoes. And that we really, this life, there are few that escape, you know, sorrow and pain in this life. And so just that awareness and compassion brings such a dimension to our relationships, our regard for people and the world really.

Thea:                            15:19                Because within sorrow, I mean, I want to say healthy sorrow, because there’s tragedy that is like, there feels like a wrongness in, you know, an injustice. But there’s, when there’s the healthy sorrow, I feel like within that is a real big seed of what’s beautiful. You know, it brings us to that which is––beauty, you know, love.

Anne:                           15:50                It’s a sweet sorrow. It’s a sweet sorrow. And it’s like having gone through that experience, going through this kind of experience and similar experiences, it definitely, like, it reveals that layer to existence. And we probably should start looking to wrap it up soon, and I’ll only touch on this now, but I mean, beyond the deepening, I mean, it’s, you know, I discovered my faith through that process too. And when I say that, I’m not saying a particular, an organized religion or denomination or, you know, and as I’ve said to people who I’ve gotten into discussions about this with, it’s like I feel that it’s much larger than any one particular organized set of beliefs, but a kind of you know, an all encompassing understanding connection to my source, connection to the divine, connection to other realms. And it’s, you know, it’s been a gradual process for me really since the deaths of my parents. And it’s been an organic, beautiful thing too. And one that feels very experiential. I remember a friend of mine who a German friend of mine who, who lives here in California where it’s really, people don’t talk a lot about God and faith here, in the Bay area, we’re in the Bay area. There’s almost a disdain for that. Right? And he had remarked that it has really struck him how I didn’t, I don’t have this from having been raised in it, you know, ’cause we were raised kind of half assed Catholic…

Thea:                            18:07                But I would say my experience was there was a sense of intelligence and divinity, the acknowledgement of God in our life even though it wasn’t through any direct channel or picture. But that picture that there is, there’s meaning and purpose and God.

Anne:                           18:33                Yeah. An understanding of there being more than we are seeing. Yeah. Right. More than is visible. I agree. But, he was remarking that, you know, that it came to me through experience in this way as opposed to where it’s come through for him and through practice. But anyway, you know, I won’t get off on a tangent, but there’s something so beautifully rich in the experience. Go ahead.

Thea:                            19:09                Well, I want to say, I don’t think it’s quite a tangent, but I think it will be a thread to come back to that we explore a little bit more because I want to reiterate again in our dialogues that we’re sharing together here. These are our reflections from our experiences and our understanding of those experiences and the way we then choose to engage with our life and the world and the people in our lives. And it’s not so much about is someone testing, has this been proven? This is through our own experience, which I think, what I want to wrap it into a little bit is––losing, having our parents move on at our young age, which felt very young at the time I think removed, I think I said this, I remember feeling it when, when it was going on, just that when they were gone, there was no longer any image of a guidance or you know, mother, father, between myself and God. So my relationship to whatever I call God, source, whatever, became even more clear and tangible for me because there was nothing in between it. I didn’t have anything separating it. And I think what that has brought to me through my own journey and you, is what I perceive is a gift and for me to do something with. So it’s, it’s like, it’s allowed me to develop that capacity more and more and more to listen to myself, to listen to what I Intuit or instinctively respond to. You know, trusting oneself because knowing oneself is more than just me. Like that there’s wisdom that moves through and shows itself to me through my experiences. So, yeah.

Anne:                           21:14                Absolutely. Thanks for making that distinction. Thanks for making that distinction. Yeah. It’s, once again, it’s you know, I’d made this comment recently, but there is some knowledge, there is, there is information that sometimes cannot be transferred through language or books or teaching, but only through experience. Right? It’s when the veil drops, you know, or when we walk through a door. So anyway, it’s an exclusive club. So anyone who has experienced it, welcome to it and promise it gets better and there’s so much richness to the experience that one can be in and does become quite grateful for. And we’ll probably touch on this more next time.

Thea:                            22:09                I think we should. And I just, there’s one more thing now I have to say that as you say that there’s more richness. I feel a little bit like it is that experience, because at first through it, things become more dull and it’s kind of like you’re going into a cocoon a bit and the veils wrap around you. And then when you pull yourself back through that, the world is more vibrant again. It changes. But you do go through a darkness.

Anne:                           22:40                You do, you do. And so do not expect all of a sudden, “Oh you know…” There is a deadening and a darkness to it at first, but you have to go through that to come out to a brighter light.

Thea:                            22:54                Yeah. Well thank you so much. I look forward to us talking more about it ’cause there’s so, so many other spaces within it for us to, you know, think about it as the culture of how to alter and change and support or develop new ways or old ways to honor the grieving process when each individual goes through it. So it can be a transformative space that’s recognized and really honored.

Anne:                           23:26                Yes, I agree. All right, we’ll think on that.

Thea:                            23:30                Thank you.

Anne:                           23:31                All right, one sec. Bye.

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